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County Unemployment Falls to 6.5% in December

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Nearly 1,100 new jobs created in December dropped Ventura County’s unemployment rate to early 1991 levels, but economists warn that many of the jobs are low-paying restaurant or retail posts.

Numbers released Friday by the state Employment Development Department showed 6.5% of the work force was unemployed in December, compared to 7.7% a month earlier and 8% a year ago.

In May, the unemployment rate also stood at 6.5%, the lowest level since March 1991, when the rate was 6.2%. The figures before 1994 were calculated differently than current statistics.

While heartened by the drop, local business leaders and economists still warned against celebrating the end of the recession.

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“Nobody should open the champagne,” said Ali Akbari, an economics professor at Cal Lutheran University. He said while new jobs have been added in the county, most are low-paying retail and trade jobs.

“The high-tech, high-paying jobs have not come back,” he said.

But the job growth in December is another sign the county is chugging out of the recession with the rest of California, officials said.

“The (1,100 new jobs) sounds like good news,” said Carolyn Leavens, president of the Ventura County Economic Development Agency. “But I’m still waiting to see more new businesses move into Ventura County.”

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The unemployment rate usually drops in December because retailers beef up their sales force, said Conejo Valley Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Steve Rubenstein.

“That always happens during the holiday season,” he said.

But he predicted the unemployment number will not increase significantly in the coming months because storm damage and continuing earthquake repairs will keep the construction industry busy.

Employment department spokeswoman Sonja Speer said trade and government led the pack in creating new jobs in Ventura County, with 1,300 and 500 new jobs respectively.

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Those gains were offset by job losses in manufacturing, construction and services, Speer said. But compared to 1993, the construction industry added 1,000 new jobs.

“It looks like (Ventura County) got a very healthy gain on the employment side,” said Bruce DeVine, an economist with the Southern California Assn. of Governments. “I think this is a good sign. Employment typically lags behind other economic indicators.”

In all, Ventura added 1,500 new, nonfarming jobs in 1994, Speer said. While farming experienced a modest gain of 100 new jobs from November to December, that segment of the work force lost 3,000 jobs in 1994, Speer said.


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